Reflection for Thanksgiving Eve, November 21, 2012

Joel  2:21-27, I Timothy 2:1-7, and Matthew 6:25-33

I.

    Thanksgiving comes into our lives in different ways. Sometimes thanksgiving is an exhale and a sense of relief. I made it through! We’re finished with that! Each of us is faces a crisis or challenge now and then: financially, in our families, at work, among our friends, at school, with our health, or in our city, state or nation.  We go through the event, the challenge, the crisis and come out of it with a feeling of relief. We exhale.

Embedded in that exhale is exhalation. Relief swells up in us and joy returns like and old friend we have not seen for awhile. We have a genuine feeling of gratitude.

Such is the exaltation, the thanksgiving in the first lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures from the prophet Joel. A grasshopper plague has consumed the land and the harvest has been destroyed. After hardship and loss, starvation and sorrow, the insects have now left. Life is coming back. There is an exhale of joy as people sense fresh hope. Those who have fled the famine are called back. Let us give thanks. We have made it through.

Tonight as we give thanks, let us recall those times when we’ve made it through, exhaling as we say “thank God,” for as individuals and as part of a community we have been through many different challenges, crises, and pivotal events this season and year. As we find our way through things, we rejoice with thanksgiving.

This kind of thanksgiving breeds compassion as its virtue. The lesson it teaches us is a tenderness of heart for those who have faced similar situations. We know what it is like. Cancer survivors, for example, may become deeply involved with caring for those going through the hardship of this disease.

II.

    A different kind of thanksgiving comes not when we exhale. This kind of thanksgiving is built on the rhythm of pause and perspective. Normally our lives are so filled with the constant flow of things that we hardly pay attention the deeper reasons or themes  of the life we are leading, or the value of the things we have received, or the pattern our life reveals, or how life itself is assembled, or the ways in which our lives have gone well. We just live life, usually without thinking about it much.

Yet once in awhile we pull up short and think about things. We occasionally decide to pause, to stop living and doing, so that we can think about what we are living and doing. That is what Sabbath, worship, meditation and prayer are about. These things are pauses that give birth to perspective. When we pause, and when we think about things, we become aware of the blessings we have received, the underpinnings of life, all of those things listed in the litany this evening, some of those things in this evening’s second lesson, and the force for good behind it all.

Thanksgiving in the United States is a time when we as a people pause in our life together to get a perspective on things.  When we do that each year as a nation, or each week in church, or on occasion at special festivals, or daily in our prayer time, we gain perspective. We become thankful for the life we have received: the blessings of a good nation, the fullness of an abundant life, good friends, the gift of forgiveness, and the blessings of a graceful God. This is the kind of thanksgiving that is found in I Timothy, the thanksgiving that comes with pause and perspective.

This kind of thanksgiving breeds contemplation as its virtue. The lesson it teaches us is to Sabbath well, to reflect on our lives in a regular rhythm, to take breaks so that we can see where we are headed rather than to just rush on.

In her book Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day, Macrina Wiederkehr (Sorin Books, 2008) uses the medieval monastic hours of prayer to shape a contemporary life centered on pauses during the day to become aware of oneself and God. She outlines seven of these pauses that give a perspective on daily living and depth to one’s life.  This thanksgiving day, take some time to reflect on the blessings of life and who is behind them. Then recommit yourself to a Sabbath sense in daily prayer, weekly worship, and festival celebration.

III.

    Sometimes there is another kind of thanksgiving. This is not the thanksgiving of the exhale and exultation that breeds compassion. Nor is it the thanksgiving of the rhythm of pausing to reflect that breeds contemplation. This thanksgiving is something much more delicate. This third thanksgiving is a construction of a vision for the good life as we find our way through hardship. Now and then life comes at us with a great deal of overwhelming fury. There are many times when that exhale seems far away if not impossible. We are so disturbed that reflection is not possible. Sometimes for a long time, nothing seems to go our way. Sometimes it seems that life is just one struggle after another.

It is precisely here, in the midst of struggle, the pain, the woe, that we meet not the God of great abundance, but the God named Jesus who emptied himself and walks with us through life shadows. Here, in the valley of shadows, we discover Jesus helping us to see our suffering in a different way, helping us gain the vision we need to make it through this. In the sorrow, accompanied by Jesus, we find an ironic blessing and a delicate thanksgiving.

These beatitudes in the last lesson form the backbone of such a thanksgiving. They remind us that we are blessed in, with, under and through all our laments. Blessed are those who mourn. They will find comfort. Blessed are the poor. For in both physical and spiritual poverty we draw close to the humble God who emptied himself for others.  Blessed are we when we are persecuted, for that is how we discover the character of a prophet buried deep inside each one of us.  This delicate construction of the good life based not on obvious blessing but on survival transformed is a kind of thanksgiving that one also encounters in life.

The other day I was talking with a woman who needed a conversation. She was a long way from feeling the joy of abundant blessings. She faced many struggles ahead, but she unburdened her heart. She began to feel the ironic hope that dwells deep in our human spirit. She began to find her joy through the lament. She started the conversation in tears. She ended it with a laugh and a recollection of how far she had come. The funny thing is I said hardly three words through the whole conversation. All she needed to construct her own delicate thanksgiving was a space to rebuild her sense of thankfulness and gumption for the hard road ahead.

This kind of thanksgiving breeds not compassion as its virtue, nor contemplation as its virtue, but confidence. The lesson of the thanksgiving of the beatitudes teaches us the capacity to keep going, an ironic fearlessness as we approach the difficulties ahead, and a gumption that allows us to go on.

Sometimes thanksgiving is an exhale: an exaltation of praise that comes at the end of a journey. Sometimes it is the fruit of pausing for perspective hourly, daily, weekly, or yearly, as we discover we have much to be thankful for. Sometimes thanksgiving comes in suffering as we meet a God who transforms us along life’s way. No matter what your thanksgiving this year, we are called to the various virtues of compassion, contemplation and courage as we encounter this God who loves and who walks with us all along the way.

 

Sermon for November 18, 2012

Daniel 12:2-3, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8 

Oh, enough already! Sometimes it seems like we keep going through the same thing, over and over, without an end in sight. Our lives feel like a broken record, if anyone can still remember what a record is, or like a self replicating digital loop that goes on into infinity. Whatever our recording or digital era, there are times when the same old thing keeps going on and on.

Sometimes relationships are this way. We may love our spouse more than we can say, but even the most beloved can drive us crazy as they do the same thing over and over and over. Sometimes work is this way as we face the same problem or issue again and again, and it never gets resolved. Sometimes work or school is this way when we keep doing the same task each day, each week, each month. We grow weary, but the work remains the same.  Sometimes church is this way as we keep doing the same thing over and over. We become trapped in a sameness as we wonder if we must always do it this way.

Sometimes our public life is this way as we keep recycling the same rhetoric about the same unresolved issues from the same old party lines. This staleness is a feeling that can crop up at any time. Suddenly we feel this way about our daily commute or the newspaper or taking out the garbage, or shoveling the snow or mowing the grass, or an endless meeting, or conversation, or even our favorite television show. Oh, enough already. Let’s get to the end.

Each of these stories from the Bible has this feel to it. In Hebrews, there is this sense of endless sacrifice to the gods that somehow in the first century has lost its appeal. Haven’t we burned enough, given enough, offered enough over the centuries? When will all this sacrifice end? In the first century, there was a general cultural feeling that all the old sacrificial religious systems were losing their grip on the hearts of the religious. Sacrifice wasn’t what it once was. The old temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. And people were no longer so keen on going to the pagan temples to offer sacrifices to the Roman, Greek and civic gods and goddesses.  That kind of religion was on the wane. Religion was becoming something different. People were saying “enough already” to the religion of the day and were looking for an end to sacrifice.

The book of Hebrews is written in this cultural climate. It does not suggest that Christians should be part of the old way of doing things. Just the opposite: Jesus is seen as one who stands in this new religious wave, as an end of sacrifice. This book of the Bible is a call to a new kind of religion that involved not sacrifice, not going to one temple or another to give money or animals, but ritual cleansing like baptism, living an ethical life with a clear conscience, helping others doing the good, focusing the faith not on sacrifice but on fellowship, gatherings, and recognizing that there is a reckoning so the way we live is important. All of this first century shift is the point of Guy Stroumsa’s The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity, translated from his French essays by Susan Emanuel and published by the University of Chicago in 2009.  And all of this first century religious transformation away from old ways of religion, temples and sacrifice to the relocation of religion from buildings to the person, to the way one lives, to the community of faith, and to a reckoning: all of that great first century religious shift is found in the lessons from Hebrews and Mark. Enough already with the sacrifices, over and over and over again in all the temples of antiquity!

It is time for a new faith, a faith grounded in the once and for all, system ending, sacrifice of Jesus. It is time for a new faith located not on the altar of a temple but in the heart of the one who believes, a new faith that calls for a new way of living not an old way of repeating the same religious duties over and over.

Like the first century, in the twenty-first century we are in a time of religious transformation when more and more people are constructing a new Christianity, a faith that works and encourages you to do the right thing by others, a faith that connects you to others of similar vision and sets the course for the rest of your life. Not all that many people are coming to church these days. But there are more Christians alive now than have lived in all the previous centuries combined. And most Christians today are not doing the same thing over and over. They are involved in some sort of faith construction as they build their own lives on Jesus, paying attention to the traditions, but mostly encountering the Jesus of the Bible for themselves, and building the faith needed for a new time and place.

Pairing Hebrews 8 and Mark 13 with Daniel reminds us that there is a reckoning, an end to life’s journey which shapes the course we follow. As we build our faith, we would do well to keep this reckoning in mind.

The pairing also reminds us that the construction of faith involves what once was called “tribulation.”  It is not an easy thing to build a workable faith, something that matters in your own heart, something that makes sense in your world, something that helps you do the right, connects you to others, and sets your course for the this life and beyond. Such faith often comes only through suffering and what might be called tribulation. It is challenging to transform the old ways, the faith of your youth, the way things were. It is not an easy thing to change. Being true to your own faithful heart will involve some gnashing of the teeth as the apocalyptic teachers are wont to say.

But let us work through that transition, that struggle, so that something new is born this coming advent season. As the season of new birth approaches, may you find a faith that is not the same old thing over and over again. May you find a fresh faith grounded in Jesus, focused not on buildings but on the temple of the heart, a faith that calls us to do the right, binds us together with others on the same road, and sets us on a course for love and life.

As we build our faith we will surprising sense that our new faith, our current faith, is also an ancient faith, a primitive faith. We will be following the path of those first century radicals who changed the shape of religion in their time. May God watch over us all as we continue this construction project God has going in our own hearts and lives.

 

Sermon for November 25, 2012

Daniel 7:9-10, 133-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 16:33-37 

Today is the festival of Christ the King. To me it has always felt like a contrived festival. And in some ways I may be right. It’s a hundred or so years old. In fact, the festival is not as old as the building we are in this morning that dates to World War I. That’s not old in the life span of Christian festivals.

Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in response to growing nationalism that ultimately led to World War II.  He hoped that emphasis on the reign of God would reduce the inflammatory nationalism of the time.  The original date was the last Sunday of the month of October. It might have been placed there to compensate for protestant reformation celebrations held on that Sunday.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe and a new date: the last Sunday in the liturgical year, before a new year begins with the First Sunday in Advent. The lessons are from books like Daniel and Revelation sometimes with apocalyptic visions. They speak of the end times, final judgment, Christ as king, and the reign of God over all time.

Before the green Lutheran Book of Worship, most of us Lutherans did not know such a festival existed. But for the last fifty years, those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary to determine the lessons we read, like the ELCA, now observe Christ the King Sunday (titled Reign of Christ Sunday by some) as the last Sunday of our liturgical year before we begin the new year with the season of Advent.  However, noticing the emphasis on final judgment in the lessons, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden refers to this day as The Sunday of Doom. No one can accuse those Swedish Lutherans of practicing frivolity.  

I think that the intent of Pious XI is interesting for us. We live in a time of not only hyper nationalism, but hyper everything. In our day mass media acts like a megaphone through which all sorts of groups shout at ever increasing volume about the ultimate important of this and that. The result is that it’s hard for people to find our basic purpose, our stable center, our common ground, our bearings, and our deeper values and principles in all the noise and racket. Regardless of how you feel about this festival, the festival does remind us that all the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals of our time are only secondary to the ultimate vision of God.

The festival coming at the end of the church year is also a reminder to pay a bit more attention to endings. We are a people preoccupied with first impressions. And then we often think that things just go on and on. But they don’t. Everything comes to an end. The ending of the church year is a good reminder of that. And lessons from the Bible that talk about the end of time remind us that all things will eventually come to an end. The festival helps us attend to endings including our own death.

Having a festival on the last Sunday of the year reminds us that we humans prefer an ending that is meaningful and significant. We just don’t want things to fizzle out. We want endings to be noted and tended to. Endings in our lives are milestones, and we don’t want to die alone and forsaken. We want to die with family, friends, and the rituals of our faith.

And there is something to what those sober Swedes do with this day. Life is not always upbeat, joyful, and happy. There is a reckoning that happens not only in the end but all through life. There are times of darkness and despair. The day reminds us that God is God not only on the sunny days, but also on the dark ones; that God is the Lord not only of our time but of all time; that God is with us through the doom and gloom, suffering and the shadows of this life; and that our suffering will end.

We might also think about whether this is the festival of Christ the King or the festival of The Reign of God as some Protestants call it. Reign of God is more politically correct these days. We don’t want a festival that lifts up monarchy and hierarchy. Those days are over. And Reign of God gets to the point that the Ancient One in the book of Daniel today and the Alpha and Omega in the book of Revelation really does reign over all time from the beginning to the end. Still, one would wish we Protestants would name festivals after God, events, and people rather than concepts. We already have Reformation Sunday and Trinity Sunday. Do we really need another protestant idea Sunday?

And you know not everything in the church needs to be five hundred years old before we get into it. We could use a new festival now and then. And after fifty years, this one is starting to acquire a certain life of its own.

So although I may be right about the less than overwhelming nature of Christ the King Sunday; like a tuna noodle hot dish at a Lutheran potluck, this low key festival is demanding, in its own quiet and underwhelming way, that we pay attention to fellowship, faith and future, endings and beginnings.

So what are all those loud noisy hyper voices demanding you pay ultimate attention to this or that rather than to the quiet voice of God?  This week we can be preoccupied with all the generals in the world guilty of adultery as we head toward some sort of fiscal cliff while we all flock to the marketplace.  But in the end, what matters is the movement of all things back to God. What is disturbing you this week? Remember that God not that thing (whatever it is) is the force for live in the Universe.

And what is ending in your life? What subtle endings are taking place that perhaps need to be acknowledged? How might you lift up for appreciation a milestone as you close something and then begin a new chapter of life? What is the importance of the end of life? Your life and the life of those around you? It may not be about doom and gloom, but there is a depth to living life well and then ending life well. The Swedes are onto something.

And how might our lives (our words, our deeds) be aligned more with the reign of God, the will of God, the intent of God not only for us but for all creatures and all creation, as the Ancient One, the Alpha and Omega moves us along from the beginning to the end of all time?

 

 

Sermon for November 11, 2012

I Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

The other day I was watching a three year old, armed with a spoon, clean out the last remains of a peanut butter jar. It was a delightful thing to witness. She had much more facility with the spoon than one might think. She carefully moved it around the side lifting up the last morsels of delight, until she reached that crease where the side meets the bottom of the jar and there is a bit more. The last bit on the bottom was the most difficult. But she managed some of that too. Then she was finished with the project and there were still some left in the jar.

There is something about the joy and delight that come with the end of things, the completion of the jar, having the assignment to clean the batter from the mixing bowl after the cake has been poured, finding a bargain at the second hand store, salvaging the remains, or finishing the leftovers from a special meal the day before. This is one of those human activities that give us both delight and sadness. And sometimes these feelings are more memorable than when we slosh our way through abundance.

November is like this in some ways.  There is a certain feeling about getting those last leaves into the pile before the winter snows.  Barbara Crooker catches this sense of November’s remains of the season in her poem, Praise Song:

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.

 Barbara Crooker speaks of the remains of the season, the bowl, the jar, the day, the life, the special feeling that comes at the end, the new sights we have when we are no longer filled with summer’s lushness but have just a few pennies left in our pockets to spend as the light thins.

The author of I Kings captures the sense of the remains of the jar, the season, the life, and the barrel in the account of Elijah in the first story today. A famine has made food scarce. Elijah finds himself living with a widow whose resources are depleted. They are at the end of the road, the last meal, and the final scrapings from the bottom of the flour barrel. As she shares the last bit with her son and this prophet, she discovers that there is more to be had, that the last bit is enough, in the way that is only possible to know when only a little is available.

In Mark, Jesus encounters another widow. What is this about widows? Well, for one thing there were many of them in the early Christian community. There were probably more female Christians than men in the first Christian churches, many more. Widowhood was a time of financial hardship, and the ancient church made care for those in need a priority. Widows also provided insight, wisdom and faith as they still do in the accomplishment of a congregation’s mission.

So Jesus encounters a widow. Her resources are scarce. She has hardly a thing. Yet she wants to make an offering. She places her coppers in the coffer. Jesus notices the end of her road, her giving out of scarcity, the depletion of her life, and the final scrapings at the bottom of her barrel. As she shares her last bit with God, Jesus, (whose faith is being formed by this woman) and the woman herself discover that there is more to be had, in that way only possible when just a little is left.

Why is it that faith seems to matter when life gets thin? Why do we treasure the waning light of November so much? Why is it that we delight in the bottom of the bowl? Why do we lift up what little is left? Why is it that God empties himself to become the least of these so that when we find ourselves at the bottom of life we meet God. As we pick through the remains of our days, we meet God helping us sense that there is something more to be had after all? Why is it that our last supper is really a foretaste of a feast to come?

These are not passages about how important it is to give to something when we have nothing. These are not lessons about giving to the church. These are lessons about the way life is constructed. These are passages about the gift of the last things, the little amount remaining, the few, the scarce, and the least. Hebrews, that second lesson, suggests to the Christian imagination that Jesus is the copper coin offered by a widow God, the final sacrifice, the closing offering, the end of all the scraping.  In a world in which there is so little love and grace, Jesus is all we have; and that is enough.

You know, pastors do weddings as part of our work. So through our years we often witness the first kiss of the married couple at the altar as the wedding service closes. These hesitant but public first married kisses are often intensified with the clinking of the glasses at the receptions and parties that follow. And through the many years of marriage there are more kisses, hugs, and expressions of physical affection all along the way. All of that is wonderful.

But pastors also spend time in care centers, hospitals, hospice facilities and homes, when life is running on the thin side. So we do not only see the first kisses of married life. We also witness the last kiss of a wife for her dying husband, the last hours of a husband holding the hand of his dying wife, the last expressions of affection after a lush and full life together. There, in the presence of the end, the remains of love’s full bloom, the bottom of the bowl of life, the final days of tenderness, the last hours and moments of life together; we feel the miracle of the last things, love’s last supper as part of a feast to come, the strange delight in the waning, the knowing that there is more to be had after all, the sense that the ending will bring a beginning because this thing called love will go on somehow.

Today, find the bottom of your bowl, see the thinning November light, treasure the last times with the beloved, and offer yourself not to the lushness of abundance but to the emptiness of those who know hardship not as an end but as a pathway. Sense the growing faith of Jesus, witness the amazing capacity of widows to stretch a cup of flower, a coin or two, and life and love itself, until we all see together that November will give way to May, that there are more jars yet unopened on that upper shelf, that the sharing we do sustains us, as we all recall how three year olds delight in the end.

 

 

 

Reflection for All Saints, November 4, 2012

All Saints is the festival of the church dating from the middle ages to recall our blessed dead and all the saints of the church. At St. John’s, as with many if not most Christian churches today, it is a time when we recall all of those who have died in this past year, to remember them, and to entrust them to God’s safe keeping.  We will do that again this year as we recall in our prayers the seventeen who have died since our last All Saints festival in 2011.

All Saints, or the Day of the Dead as it is known in some cultures, is a good day to talk honestly about death. It is a good day to consider questions about dying, grief, and death that cannot be dealt with very well in funerals.

This summer during our pastoral reflection series, we spend some time with Konigsberg’s recent book on the death and grieving industry in the United States, The Truth about Death and the Myth of the Five Stages. We used the adult forum setting because at the time of an individual’s death, we focus naturally on other things.  Still, if you find yourself facing a death or a grief, and the accepted five stages do not seem to be working for you, or if you wonder about all the money spent on death and grief therapy, it may be good for you to read her work. At the core of her work is an emphasis on human resiliency. In some ways we are moving beyond those five stages and also back to Granger Westberg’s book, Good Grief, the sixty-two page classic published exactly fifty years ago this year. At that time, Westberg saw grief not as stages but as a journey involving remembrance, deeper involvement with family, friends and community, faith stretching and growing, time in solitude, honesty about a mix of feelings, making new sense of things, and building a new life.

There is another secular issue regarding death that I hope we can take up in next summer’s pastoral reflection. It is the delicate but important medical and ethical issue about death in our country. Forty percent of all medical care costs are spent on the last month of life, often including procedures that are not really wanted by the person or the family. The new Affordable Care Act takes this into account and offers some challenging and creative possibilities to be honestly considered. Although f this part of the legislation is not being discussed by politicians; nevertheless chaplaians, care providers, hospice workers, hospitals, pastors and physicians are all looking at the shifts in this area very carefully.  I am sure both in adult forums and in public conversation all through this country we will be talking about this issue next year no matter what this week’s election yields.

But those are the summer death issues ripe for public dialog. On this religious All Saints festival I would like to lift up a different question regarding death. It is a question that is also in the back of our minds as we celebrate All Saints Day: Are our beloved dead really saints?  There are two layers to this question, and neither layer really works so well in funerals.

Are our beloved dead really saints? On one level, it’s a question about our beloved departed, the kind of life they led, and how we feel about them. Not everyone in the Christian family leads an exemplary life. Even the best of us still have a few rough edges that cause those around us some pain. As we say farewell to our faithfully departed we may wonder if they really were that saintly and why we have such mixed feelings as we grieve.

This is a good day to talk about this because it’s hard to talk about this in funeral situations.  When I first started out as a pastor, I said only complementary things about the dead. That is a wise thing for pastors to do. Everyone I buried was a model citizen, a perfect Christian, a loving parent, brother, sister, and spouse.  Finally after several funerals, an older member of the congregation took me aside and explained that I needed to be more honest in my description of the lives of some of these people we were laying to rest.

So for awhile as I buried the dead of the parish, I was more honest.  I was fine with that, emphasizing our generally sinful nature, until the old member of the parish took me aside again and explained that I did not need to be quiet so honest.

Are our beloved dead really saints? The fact of the matter is that as we remember them, we tend to remember the good things. Those are the things we lift up in the intense grieving of the funeral. Still, the rough edges on their lives, and we all have them, give us mixed feelings that can complicate the grieving and the remembering.

The wisdom of the Christian faith reminds us that, yes our beloved dead are saints. But that does not mean they were perfect people. It means they are forgiven by God, and eventually by us.  It means that whatever their shortcomings, in the end, God’s grace is greater. It means that we can have mixed feelings about our beloved dead and still entrust them to God’s eternal care. Saints are sinners, forgiven and beloved sinners. So if there is a complicated grief in your life, remember that the goal of that process is going to be forgiveness and ultimate reconciliation. It may take awhile to get there, but God who forgives us all will walk with you along that path.

Are our beloved dead really saints? Yes, but there is a second layer to this question. This layer is not focused on the philandering of Uncle Harry, but on something embedded in our culture.

Is there really an afterlife? A heaven? Are there saints dwelling with God in eternity?  More and more we live with a practical and empirical faith concerned with caring for those in need in the here and now. More and more we live a pragmatic and utilitarian faith concerned with justice and peace in this world. And we would not want it any other way. Faith matters in the here and now.

But sometimes all of our emphasis on the practical, the empirical, the physical, the present outcomes, results, the utilitarian, especially in the church, makes our message about God and the heavenly saints something that gets put on the backburner.  We begin to think of our beloved dead as just that, people we loved and remember now, but who have no ongoing life with God.

A deep reflection on the afterlife really does not work well in funerals either. There are too many other things going on as we often stand in shock and grief before an empty grave. But today, as we ask about the saints, we can reflect on what happens to us in and through death.

Again, Christian wisdom points to the justice, peace, truth, responsibility, compassion and freedom to which we are called, to the importance of this life, to the here and the now. But that here and now is something we are passing through. We have fewer days than we think. So live each day in the here and now as if it were your last. Through death we then pass into a different way of being that unites us with God and others in ways we cannot now know. All we know now is an ancient yearning of the heart reminding us that we will return to the place and the one from whence we came.

All these physical things around us are important. But they are merely important. There is something ultimate to which we have been called. We feel that ultimate reality in our bones when we remember our blessed dead, our saints. We feel that ultimate reality in our bones when we find ourselves aching for a deeper life. We feel the ultimate reality in our bones when we find ourselves shaping this life around the principles of love, peace, and mercy found in the next.

For we humans are not only able to count. We are also able to dream. We humans do not only cope with reality, we also hope for something more. We humans not only exist, we also live. In our songs and poems we touch that dimension of living that moves us through this shadow of death into life. Practical faith is important. So is the here and now. But on days like this we touch again that deep sense in us that there is something more, something not yet seen, something brighter, and something more complete. Are our beloved dead saints? Yes they are, and so are we.